Because of my calling to the life work of ministry and to date forty-five year experience as Founder and Pastor of one of the finest churches to be found anywhere, and because of my age and soon coming inevitability of "not being able to go on", for quite some time now I've been thinking of the Old Testament prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha.
The first mention of this unique man called Elijah the Tishbite is found in 1 Kings 17:1 when suddenly he steps out onto the pages of God's word. I remember many years ago that some dear preacher likened him to "a meteor suddenly flashing across a darkened sky". We know nothing about him except that he's of the inhabitants of Gilead and becomes one of the most powerful and notable prophets in the Old Testament.
And yet, Elisha his successor received a "double portion" of his spirit. Oh what unique and powerful dear men of God both these prophets were! And oh, how they stood for God and truth and stemmed the tide of wickedness in their day. The story of their lives is one that can provide the inspiration and spirit for transitioning in our churches from one Pastor to another that would be very pleasing to God, Christ honoring, and church strengthening. Let's learn from their example found in 1 Kings 17:1 - 19:19-21, 2 Kings 2:1-14.
During his ministry Elijah finds Elisha, the son of Shaphat, performing secular work. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen and he with the twelve. This, within itself speaks volumes concerning the kind of man that's needed in succeeding a successful ministry.
It doesn't seem to me that in front of Elisha plow stood twenty-four oxen. Surely with their strength the ground would not have been that difficult to turn. It rather seems to me that there was as many as twelve plowmen working the fields with twelve plows each pulled by a two oxen.
In this scenario we learn that Elisha was either the supervisor of the rest or simply a coworker with the rest. If a supervisor we learn that the ability to lead others in effective endeavors is essential for success as a successor to a great ministry. If a coworker with eleven others we learn that the willingness and ability to work alongside others in accomplishing a mutual goal is essential for success as a successor to a great ministry. If a person cannot work with others as a team they need not try to lead.
Where I grew up plowing was commonplace. It always amazed me how that those farmers could plow a furrow as straight as an arrow. I tried is a couple times and my row was as crooked as a dog's hind leg. If one isn't willing to work a secular job they are too lazy for a spiritual job! And if one can't plow a straight line in secular work it's doubtful if they can succeed in spiritual work.
Elijah comes up to Elisha as though he would walk right past him, clearly at the leadership of God, and as he passes by lays his mantle on Elisha's shoulders. It is a picture of God's future plans for this plowman. He will one day wear the mantle of one of God's greatest prophets and do twice as many miraculous things. But this would not happen immediately. He must wait and serve faithfully until God is finished with Elijah and removes his predecessor.
It seems that Elisha was already familiar to some degree with Elijah. Perhaps he was already a student awaiting God's choice in who would become an assistant to the prophet. He realizes the significance of the mantle's momentary presence upon his shoulders. He steps away from his plow and oxen and his coworkers and talks to Elijah. He requests the privilege to go kiss his father and mother and tell them he's leaving the farm to follow the prophet.
Elijah allows him to do so and challenges him to think about this opportunity to become his successor and decide whether he'd be willing to pay the price for the privilege. "Go back again: for what have I done to thee?" The call and opportunity for great task in ministry requires "counting the cost" spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.
The task of succeeding God's men in God's ministry is serious business and requires more than "trying it out for a while to see if it works". Such a frivolous attitude toward the things of God does more harm than good in the work of God as Pastors in the churches.
Elisha, true to his word, went to his family, told them of God's calling upon his life and his decision to be an assistant to Elijah. He makes a clean break with his former life by slaying the oxen, evidently the ones pulling his plow, building a fire using the wooden parts of his plow, and boiling the meat for a goodbye fellowship meal with his people. He gave his handshakes and hugs and left to catch up with Elijah and please notice this "and ministered unto him," If you can't be content in serving alongside of and assisting an established Pastor until God places you at the helm of your own ship you are not qualified to succeed a dear man of God in ministry.
I think of long time Youth or Assistant Pastors that have faithfully served their Pastors and churches for years without getting out of their place, without dividing loyalties, and without asserting themselves. Such men make the best Pastors when it is time for them to wear the mantle.
As the time draws near for Elisha to actually take over Elijah's ministry there is another powerful lesson to learn. For this we examine 2 Kings 2:1-18. The time has arrived for God to take Elijah into heaven. He will do it in a miraculous manner. Elijah lived a miraculous ministry and it is fitting that he enter eternity in a miraculous manner. The Lord chose to lift him up from the earth into heaven in a whirlwind. He would enter eternity without dying a natural death! I imagine that somewhere above the man's earthly sight God glorified his body in much the same way he will ours at the rapture of the church.
What made this event even more awe inspiring was that God dispatched a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire through the powerful whirling wind. We are not told if an angel drove the chariot, Perhaps it was driverless because Elijah would have the privilege of sitting in the driver's seat and holding the horses' harnesses during his trip to glory land! I guess he waved goodbye to his protege when he let his mantle fall to the ground as he drove the flying chariot away! Thus ended the Elisha's Assistant Pastor's job and gave him the keys to the Sr. Pastor's office along with everything the position offered.
Elisha knew his time had come to lead the great ministry that God gave him after fulfilling his purpose in Elijah's life. So, he picked up his mentor's mantle and immediately went to work for God in God's miraculous power. But we cannot leave the story just yet. We must glean the last lessons we learn from this protege's final hours as a minister to Elijah.
It seems that Elijah pretends that God is sending him into Bethel for some reason. (Ok, if you like, perhaps God really did send him there for some reason). He asked Elisha to remain where he was until he returned. Elisha, knowing that his mentor was going to be taken away and that Elijah was testing him said no, Elijah, I will not leave thee. So, he went to Bethel with him. The sons of the prophets in Bethel also suspected that Elijah's departure was at hand and expressed this to Elisha saying "knowest thou that the LORD will take away thy master from thy head today?" Elisha said I know, don't let him know that you know.
Elijah then pretends that God is sending him over into Jericho for some reason and that Elisha should just wait for him where they were. But again Elisha isn't buying it. He said again, "As the LORD liveth and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee." He went with him to Jericho. When they arrived in Jericho the sons of the prohets there also suspected that Elijah's departure would be soon and expressed it to Elisha. Again, Elisha said yes I know, don't let on like you know it. Elijah puts Elisha to the test once more by pretending that God was sending him over to Jordan and that he should just wait until he returned.
And again Elisha isn't falling for that trick. He said no I'll just go with you. This time fifty men of the sons of the prophets followed at a distance to see what would happen. They had the privilege of seeing Elijah take his mantle, wrap it together like a rod, smite the water with it, and see the waters divide so that he and Elisha walked through the river on dry ground. After crossing the river, Elijah, seeing that Elisha had passed all the test says to him, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee." Elisha asked for a double portion of his spirit to rest upon him. Elijah says "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so."
Just as he'd previously refused to let Elijah go anywhere without him, Elisha refused to take his eyes off his master and was blessed to see his miraculous departure. If one can be deterred from ministry with a mentoring man of God for any reason he disqualifies himself as a successor.
Elisha seems to have always been very respectful in words and deeds toward Elijah. He remains that way right up till the end of Elijah's ministry on earth and of course afterward in anything having to do with his old mentor.
Notice please that as Elisha sees his miraculous departure he cries out "My father, my father, the chariot of Isael, and the horsemen thereof". It's an interesting statement. In it we see the great respect and reverence Elisha has for his mentor. He considered him to be his spiritual father who'd nurtured him up in the fear and admonition of the Lord and taught and trained him in ministry.
Elisha considered him to be the one that both pulled the people by his preaching and carried them my his message into the presence of God. Elisha would have been content to keep Elijah on earth with him and continue being his servant!
I am thankful that I personally have never disrespected a man of God, never spoken ill to any of them, and still today I deeply love, respect, and honor the dear men of God that have mentored me in the faith. It is sad that Elisha's character is missing in many young preachers today. It is sad that many, behind their Pastor's back, divide loyalties, and attempt to or carry out a coup against their Elijah. Such sad scenes hurt the cause of Christ and our churches. Perhaps this article will help shape some young men for the reception of a God given ministry and save them from an Absolom reputation that will follow them wherever they go.
Please pray that God will see fit to quickly place a biblical Elisha at my side and secure a biblical future for the great Mission Baptist Church.
Founder & Pastor Dr. Bill Rains